The 906 Adventure Team is gearing up for the 2022 Polar Roll on February 12. As usual, the event is full of a challenging variety of fatbike and snowshoe events and of course...bacon.
In this interview, I chat with Polar Roll Race Director, Todd Poquette. Todd is well known for creating new categories of pain as well as community. The crew in Marquette Michigan works harder and takes bigger risks to come up with new ways to create memorable bike adventures.
We talk about his philosophy around challenging adventures, how bacon became an on-course staple, and what exactly makes the Polar Roll such an icon.
Todd, where did the Polar Roll idea even come from?
We had this local fat bike event called the “World Snowbike Championship” or something like that. It piggybacked a large nordic event in the community and covered nothing but nordic ski trails. I kept asking myself and a few others the same questions:
“Why the heck are we piggybacking a ski event?”
“Why the heck are we going to crown someone the World Snowbike Champion for winning a road race?”
It just seemed sacrilegious and boring.
Here we are in Marquette County, Michigan, on the edge of a fat bike boom, and in a community that is setting the standard for fat bike grooming… and we are gonna host a world championship on ski trails?
You should always ask yourself “What can we do that no one can do better?” In Marquette, the answer was simple: create one helluva lotta snow and groom trails specifically for fat bikes. That was the vision in its most simple form.
Step 2: Identify a course.
I wanted to link trails groomed by RAMBA and NTN to create an epic P2P adventure. I also wanted to see the communities work together (west end and Marquette). We are like every other community, we have our little weird politics and special groups. I felt the more we could bring the two sides together the better things will be for everyone. I’d say for the most part the majority of people bought into it and continue to buy into it still today.
Step 3: Identify who this event is for.
This was the beginning of how Polar Roll and the rest of our events have set themselves apart. We looked at Polar Roll as more of an adventure, not just a race. You know what makes an event a race? Two people lining up side-by-side with one goal - to kick the other person’s butt. What I’m saying is, you can create an experience for everyone and make it accessible to everyone, and you’ll still have 10% of your field show up solely for the chance to race. We’ve always promoted “race it or ride it”. People should be able to come to an event and experience that event in whatever way will best serve their needs and interests. Polar Roll has always been and will always be more than just a race… it’s a freaking adventure.
What’s up with the on-course bacon?
I mean… it’s bacon!
There’s nothing else to say. I’m kidding, there is.
So Chris Holm and a crew from the “Tuesday Night Rieboldt Ride” group decided to put an aid station out on the course, most likely because our events don’t offer aid stations. We tell folks they’re self-supported, but it was never intended to mean you couldn’t get help from someone, it just meant WE weren’t going to help you. Chris and his crew set the bar that year.
They absolutely crushed it.
It was another moment in life, for me at least, that if you pay attention there’s always something to learn, sometimes in the most unlikely places. I wanna say they set-up about 4-miles from the finish line - and you could not have predicted how perfect it would be.
Riders were coming into “Hugs & Bacon” literally crying for their mommas. The course was brutal!
They’d roll in and the first words uttered are “I’m done!” or some other iteration of profanity laced exhaustion.
But then they had some bacon, and after bacon they drank whiskey, and after the whiskey they had more bacon, and then more whiskey. They’d go from DONE to LETS DO THIS in three shots.
It was magic.
Well, bacon and whiskey if I’m being honest, but I saw something that day…. Actually I saw a lot of things that day. I watched people come together who you’d never expect to see together… and in my view it was the adversity that brought em’ together. Their differences didn’t matter - what did matter was getting through that course alive.
And the aid station… I saw how grateful people were to receive help when they needed it and didn’t expect it… and I saw the people who offered that help feel genuinely good for doing something for someone else… and getting nothing back in return except a sincere thank you. I guess you could say bacon brings out the best in us.
What’s the snowflake challenge? It sounds wimpy.
The snowflake challenge is just another stupid idea we came up with last year as part of the EX format, EX meaning EXPEDITION, meaning you literally are on your own.
EX was our answer to the pandemic.
We were extremely fortunate to find ourselves in the position we were in when we needed to #adapt. I recorded a video on my phone and basically told people “Listen, we’ve been telling you for six-years you’re self-supported and on your own, it’s for real this year!
We were one of the few events to operate that summer and since then the format has blown up. We have been able to reach a whole new group of people… but I digress… you asked about the Snowflake.
You have to complete the EX-30FB (fatbike), EX-30SS (snowshoe), IQ Test (duathlon), and a Director’s Choice. Complete them all and get a hand forged belt buckle.
You have a lot of great photos of people falling in the snow. How much pain should riders expect?
Pain is overrated and temporary.
I wouldn’t be too worried about pain to be honest, but I would be worried about mind games. We looooove mind games.
I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me when someone calls and says “Hey, you sent me the wrong gpx file… I signed up for the 40 but the file shows a 60-mile route…” and then I laugh… because they have the right file. It’s what we do.
Routes are never what we say they are, and never short!
I have this little slogan I like to share with people “Life isn’t fair. The world isn’t safe. There is no finish line.”
When you come to a 906AT event you are going to be tested and have to prove you can prevail when everything is literally stacked against you. ANYONE can be successful in a controlled environment where everything HAS to be fair, and the RULES are leveraged to make an
experience predictable. THAT’S EASY. If that’s your deal, cool. BUT IT’S NOT OURS.
We joke about pain, and ya it’s gonna hurt at some point, but it’s so much more than that… but I hate to even try to articulate it… because I think you have to experience it.
You have to give it a chance to change you.
You have to give yourself the opportunity to prove you’re better than you believe you are… and that’s really what it comes down to for a lot of people…. They don’t believe in themselves…. So they need a kick in the butt…
I’m kinda the friend you don’t want…. But need.
I just want to see people succeed, see a life they didn’t envision for themself, and have the balls and fortitude to go after it…. And never stop going after it…. Regardless of how far they have to go… or who’s toes they might step on…
THERE IS NO FINISH LINE… If you are not where you want to be today…. KEEP GOING. DO NOT QUIT.
Be honest, do you hope for great weather or terrible weather?
I ALWAYS WANT THE MOST TERRIBLE WEATHER.
"Double Trouble" and "The Duathlon" both sound horrible. How horrible are they?
I like to look at stuff like this as an opportunity for personal growth. That’s why we are always changing routes, courses, venues, rules, etc.
No idea is off limits.
The first winter duathlon we offered was the IQ Test. That is our EX-15FB in one direction immediately followed by the EX-15SS… and you must complete both in 24-hours. That was fun.
Funny story… Roy comes up to the long snowshoe with his son last year. They proceed to crush it and document the adventure with photographs along the way through Facebook.
One small problem - they didn’t wear snowshoes for the snowshoe event. So I had to disqualify him and his punishment, if you want to call it that, was that he’d have to come back and do it again with me, but this time we’re doing both the EX-30FB + EX-30SS back to back… and I called it the Duathlon for Dummies.
That’s the stuff we do - we make fun of ourselves. Which is refreshing these days because it seems like people are really losing their sense of humor… and if you lose that… it’s all downhill from there. And everyone knows how much I dislike downhills…
Double Trouble will be great, until it isn’t. Are they horrible? Sure. Learning how to persevere and smile when thinks are absolutely fricking horrible is a skill everyone needs to learn.
906 Adventure Team always seems to have ambitious goals. What’s coming down the pipe for 906AT?
More Adventures. More Adventure Teams. We never rest. Good is not good enough.
This year's event takes place on February 12, 2022. If you want to learn more about the 2022 Polar Roll, first ask yourself, are you absolutely sure? If so, head on over to their race website here.